5. Franklin J. Schaffner – 1970 – Patton
Our first directer to be born (May 1920) and the first to be born outside of the USA (Tokyo, Japan) but still a US citizen. We’re also starting to get some big titles apart from the Oscar winner; ‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’, ‘The Boys From Brazil’, and (my favourite of his films) ‘Papillon’.
Born in May 1920 in Tokyo, Japan to American missionaries, Schaffner did not touch US soil until he was five. Following school, he went to study Law but World War 2 intervened. On his demob he started working in TV and before long was directing and winning Emmys.
That was enough for him to be given a relatively high profile film as a debut; ‘The Stripper’ was due to star Marilyn Monroe and Pat Boone. Unfortunately, Monroe died and Boone pulled out on moral grounds. Still… he got to work with Joanne Woodward instead.
In 1981 he was listed by William Goldman as being one of the three best living directors for handling epic films, the other two being David Lean and Richard Attenborough. He died in July 1989.
4. Woody Allen – 1977 – Annie Hall
Now we come to probably the most prolific and multi-talented name on the list. Director of 48 films, nominated for the Best Director Oscar seven times, Woody Allen is also known as a writer, actor, comedian, and musician.
Another person born in NYC, USA, this time in December 1935, he started writing jokes and TV scripts in the 1950s. In 1965 he wrote the screenplay and acted in ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ But was so disappointed by the results he decided to direct his own films from then on.
They started out as mainly slapstick comedy and gradually matured. Mostly still comedy but more drama, more romance, and even a nod towards German Expressionism. Midway(ish) along comes ‘Annie Hall’ which went on to win four Oscars, five BAFTAs, and a Golden Globe. Again Allen plays the romantic interest; a role he repeatedly plays despite, in my opinion, being unsuited for those roles.
Over the years Allen has worked with a Who’s Who of Hollywood… hardly surprising in a career spanning over fifty years. He’s also had his share of media and legal problems but still manages to be a favourite with the public.
3. George Roy Hill – 1973 – The Sting
Top three time!
Born in Minnesota, USA in December 1921 to parents who owned the Minneapolis Tribune and, as every bio of him says at this point, no relation to George W. Hill, director and cinematographer of numerous silent movies and early sound films in the 1920s and 1930s. As a youth he had a love of flying, got his pilot’s license at 16, and aeroplanes (particularly crashing ones) feature in some of his later films.
Following the war, he served as a US Marine Corps cargo pilot in WW2, he moved into the media. Starting as newspaper reporter he then graduated to theatre acting until he was recalled to active service in Korea. On his return he turned to television as a writer and actor before returning to Broadway as a director. While there he directed Tennessee Williams’ ‘Period of Adjustment’ which was to become his Hollywood debut.
He’s been a bit of an Oscar botherer over the years. More than half of his films have received nominations; before anyone hits the comments box, I don’t just mean Best Director. His fourteen films have gathered 37 nominations and won 13. Getting back on topic, he has had two Best Director nominations for ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (losing in 1970 to Franklin J. Schaffner for ‘Patton’) and , obviously, ‘The Sting’.
Other high spots in his career are ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, ‘The Great Waldo Pepper’, ‘Slap Shot’, and ‘The World According To Garp’. His final films were not received well; his final film being the piteously unfunny ‘Funny Farm’ in 1988. He taught drama at Yale University for a while and died in December 2002.
2. Miloš Forman – 1975 – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
At No.2 is our only non-American. Well… up until 1975 when he gained US citizenship. Born Jan Tomáš Forman in February 1932 in Čáslav, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. His parents were arrested by the Nazis as participants in the underground resistance and his father died in Buchenwald and his mother died in Auschwitz.
In the mid-1950s, Forman studied at the Film Faculty of the Academy of Arts in Prague. Upon graduating he wrote two screenplays, the first of which, ‘Nechte to na Mně’ (Leave It to Me), was filmed by Martin Frič. Forman was an assistant director on the second of those, a situation comedy called ‘Štěňata’ (Cubs) directed by Ivo Novák.
He continued working in Czechoslovakia, particularly as part of the Czech New Wave, until coming to the USA in 1968 and starting his English language film work with ‘Taking Off’ in 1971. A couple of sport films later, technically a short and a section in a feature film, and he started on a film based on a play based on a Ken Kesey novel… ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’.
To say this turned out to be a success is a huge understatement. Winner of the ‘Big Five’; at that point only the second film to do so. It also won all six Golden Globes it was nominated for and six of the eight BAFTAs. In 1993, it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry. It also won another sixteen awards including the Golden Screen (Germany), National Syndicate of Film Journalists (Italy), Kinema Junpo Awards (Japan), Sant Jordi Awards (Catalonia), and more from the USA.
After that he wasn’t heard of much. Oh, apart from ‘Man On The Moon’, ‘The People vs. Larry Flynt’, ‘Valmont’, ‘Ragtime’, ’Amadeus’…
1. Francis Ford Coppola – 1974 – The Godfather II
Back to the USA, April 1939 in Detroit, Michigan to be precise. His father, Carmine, was a classical musician and moved to New York to play the flute in the cities orchestras. Confined to bed with polio at age nine, he devised puppet shows for his own entertainment and soon began making 8mm films. After earning a B.A. in drama, he pursued a Master of Fine Arts degree at the UCLA, studying filmmaking.
Following this he took a variety of jobs in the movie business including sound-man, dialogue director, associate producer and, eventually, got his chance as director of ‘Dementia 13’ in 1963. 1962’s ‘The Bellboy And The Playgirls’ does list him as director but that was down to him adding some new 3-D colour footage.
Although mainly known as a director, he is a dab hand with a screenplay. He got his first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the aforementioned ‘Patton’ in 1970. Many think that he should have got Best Director in 1972 for ‘The Godfather’, but Bob Fosse ensured that he had to make do with Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The following year was a bit more successful. He had two pictures nominated for Best Picture, ‘The Conversation’ and ‘The Godfather II’ which took the prize. ‘The Godfather II’ was nominated eleven times in nine categories as there were three nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro, Michael V. Gazzo, and Lee Strasberg) and it won six of them.
Five years later and along comes ‘Apocalypse Now’. This was nominated in eight categories but only took home two technical awards… how did that happen!?!
Still going strong now, technically ‘semi-retired’, he has had some ups and downs. Most notably ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’, ‘The Godfather III’, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, ‘The Rainmaker’, ‘Twixt’… I’ll leave you lot to decide which are the ups and which the downs.